Why all diets fail (and why setting minimum standards is so important for fat loss)

The Best Intentions

We all start our diet or fitness goals with the greatest intentions. Maybe we want to once and for all drop that two stone, or maybe we want to get ripped for that holiday in May. No matter the goal is we always have the perfect diet mapped out in our heads. “No more crap until this holiday in May”. “That’s it now I’m back at it from Monday, going the gym everyday”. This motivation is fantastic to get us going towards our fitness goals but unfortunately it commits us to an all or nothing approach to reaching fitness goals. Today we’ll learn about how having your own minimum standards can help you stay on track and reach your fitness goals while preventing you from falling off the wagon completely. Minimum standards are the processes we set for ourselves at the beginning of our diet that ensure we don’t end up like the all or nothing guy. 

The all or nothing guy

The all or nothing approach is the way most people tackle their fitness or health related goals. This is seen with our new year’s resolutions and detox diets. It’s when we decide to go the gym seven times per week, the latest juice diet and no junk food ever is the best approach. This is how most people approach fitness and this is why most people fail. John is the perfect example of this. He was always fairly fit over the years, played lots of football and never had to worry about his weight. But then the kids came and the late nights and chippers have been beginning to catch upwith him. He’s now 2 stone overweight. With John every Monday is always a great time to start, but only after he has his last Chinese the weekend before. New Years though are even better and everybody really knows this is the best time for John. He buys all the supplements in January and starts a strict gym programme that has him in the gym 7 days a week to lose that two stone. He also seriously finds new year’s helps get rid of the cravings for take aways so they get thrown out along with alcohol of course.

A month later, how is John doing? Well he had his best friend’s birthday so unfortunately had to drink there. He didn’t feel great after that so a chinese really was the only option to help ease the hangover. What about going the gym seven times per week? Well he works long hours and after work and that’s the last thing he wants to be doing after along day.  You see these all or nothing approaches require extreme amounts of discipline and willpower that get compromised so easily when things don’t go directly to plan. “The kids are sick, oh well I can’t go the gym today”, “I’m too tired, well I’ll eat this bar of chocolate just tonight then and get back on it tomorrow”. 

What ends up happening like 95% of all resolutions, we fall off the wagon and find ourselves spinning our wheels starting over and over again with the next resolution coming along in a never ending cycle. 


Setting up for success: minimum standards


There is however a better way to approach our diet compared to the traditional all or nothing approach. This is the simple act of starting every diet or fitness programme with our own minimum standards.  Setting minimum in your diet involves noting the easiest thing you can do that will help you towards your fitness goal. Now a simple minimum standard can be have one piece of fruit every single day. If you never have fruit and vegetables, straight away this is something that will help you towards your goals. 

When we set up minimum standards before starting our diets we set ourselves up for success in the following ways

Firstly setting minimum standards is easy and requires very little willpower. This makes it very easy to turn into a healthy long term habit  that we can maintain all throughout our lives

Secondly because the minimums are so easy to implement they build our confidence. We know that if our main diet is not going so well we can still stick to our minimums which we know is still working towards our goals. 

Thirdly and most importantly if we can set and keep healthy minimums, it gives us a very beneficial base in which to build upon.

Think of minimum standards in your diet as a safety net that ensures no matter what we are still slowly working towards our goals. If we slowly keep up with our minimum standards, we slowly but consistently work towards our ultimate goal. This is in contrast with the all or nothing approach where we try reaching our goal, having moderate success, crash and repeat. From the graph you can see that although slower, the minimum standard has us gradually but surely reaching our goals where as the all or nothing just repeats.



Setting minimum standards prevents the constant frustration of crash diets and training regimes and gives us easy targets to work towards. 

In order to set minimum standards it’s important we keep our big resolutions in mind in order to base our standards off. For John to lose his two stone his motivation has him wanting to the following:

1. Go to the gym 7x per week

2. Eat fruit and vegetables with every single meal

3. Cut out all junk food

4. Join a new gym and go spinning 2-3x per week

5. No carbs…. EVER!

Now as we see these are very challenging for John as he hasn’t stepped foot in a gym in years, only ever has fruit  and vegetables when his wife makes them, loves his Chinese and chocolate bars. Realistically it will be very difficult for John or anybody to be so consistent and disciplined to stick to these resolutions. 

However setting minimum standards here ensures that when John inevitably falls off like we all do, there is a safety net there to ensure some progress is still maintained . For instance John may set the following minimum standards relating to the goal.

1. Go to the gym 1x per week and walk around the block  2x per week.

2. Have one vegetable every day

3. Drink water or diet drink with every meal

These are simple steps that John can undertake to make sure we consistently work towards our goal. So no matter the circumstance, progress is being  made. When we look at the all or nothing approach what ends up happening  during the times we are trying to “start on Monday” we end up doing absolutely  nothing that helps towards our goals. 

The best thing about setting minimums is that they are completely personal. What I recommend is when you plan on starting your big diet, just sit down for 2 minutes. This can even be done on your phone and saved as a message. Just sit down and think of the worst week imaginable that would typically  ruin your diet. This could be you only getting three hours of sleep, having a  horrible day in work and not having anything substantial to eat that day. 

From here set 5 minimum standards that you promise yourself you can keep even if these horrific days occur. This could be the simple act of drinking three glasses of water. It doesn’t really matter what you pick, but what does  matter is that you can and will do the act. So if you set yourself a target of drinking 3 glasses of water and that’s too much, just lower your standard to one if needs be.

You can choose your own personal minimum standards but below is a list created by Doctor Spencer  Nadolsky an expert in exercise and behaviour change for obesity. Not comprehensive in the slightest but a great way for you to start setting your minimum standards. I recommend choosing 3-5 of the following and starting from there.  

1) 5 servings of fruit

2) 5 servings of vegetables

3) Any form of exercise that raises your heart rate 3-5 x per week

4) Walk 10,000 steps per day

5) Sit for less than one hour per day

6) Do not have 2nd servings with your dinner

7) Reduce alcohol consumption in half

8) Reduce television/ screen time in half

9) Do not do any other tasks like watching tv while eating

10) Drink 8 glasses of water

11) Sleep for 8 hours each night

12) Cut fast food consumption In half or completely eliminate

13) Completely remove soft drinks or switch for low calorie alternatives

If you think you might want to try any of these standards, I highly encourage you to not try to pick the whole list and overwhelm yourself.  This would be just committing yourself to the all or nothing approach once again. Like I said try 3-5 for the next four weeks and see how you do. A final point- if you try any of these techniques and you find they are too difficult, just lower the standard. For instance if 5 vegetables are too much- cut that in half and eat 2. Remember these can always be improved, our objective is to consistently move towards our goal no matter how tough life seems to be.

So there you have it guys. You might find yourself like John and most others- constantly moving from resolution to resolution and getting frustrated with lack of results. Make sure when you attempt to start your next diet that you incorporate your 5 minimum standards and work slowly but constantly towards your goals.

If you like this article make sure to share it with friends and help get some exposure. Also if you haven’t  already, make sure to like the facebook page kurtis gray fitness and finally Dr Spencer Nadolsky. 

Until next time take care.